7 Bassin' in the Mud Tricks
(Lynn Burkhead photo)
To tell the truth, I admit to battling a severe case of gloom, despair and agony on me as I ventured out to try and catch a few bass recently. All because weeks of copious rains have left all of my local bass fishing holes a muddy, flooded mess.
Take for instance Lake Texoma, the 89,000-acre reservoir that is fed by the Red River as it straddles the state line between Texas and Oklahoma, is normally a relatively clear haven for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass (not to mention double-digit striped bass) that chase threadfin and gizzard shad as they try to hide around Texoma's scattered timber, sloping points, rocky shoreline and numerous boathouses.
These days, however, Texoma's resident game fish need seeing-eye dogs as red, muddy water has enveloped the two-state lake thanks to flooding rains that have surged the water body past its spillway level for only the fourth time since the lake was impounded in 1944.
In fact, the big reservoir just recently topped at its all-time flood record level, a new benchmark of 645.65 feet above sea level. For those keeping score at home, that's some five and a half feet above the top of Texoma's concrete spillway and nearly a foot beyond the previous floodwater mark of 644.76 set in May 1990.
(Lynn Burkhead photo)
That's what happens when 19.21 inches of rain falls in your backyard during the month of May 2015, one of the wettest months in North Texas weather history. All of which begs the question, if you're a fisherman at least, of how do you go about fishing such waters when the weatherman refuses to cooperate for weeks on end?
My Lake Fork fishing guide friend Rob Woodruff says the first key to success in such conditions all starts with an angler's attitude.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see people making with muddy water is mentally throwing in the towel,” said Woodruff, a longtime Fork guide based out of Quitman, Texas.
“They show up at their favorite spot and either leave without fishing or they don’t fish with much enthusiasm because the water on that day doesn’t look like it does in the magazines (even if the fish that they might catch still do).”
So what does change in the angling equation when muddy water rolls in? Woodruff gives his second key by noting that it isn't where to look for fish at this particular time of the year.
“The location stays basically the same as prior to the rain event(s) or the same as traditional areas that work well during this time of year,” said Woodruff, an Orvis endorsed guide who actually specializes in fly fishing for Fork’s double-digit bass.
Fly fishing? Yep, that’s right, fly fishing.
But the fact of the matter is, Woodruff is actually a highly respected, knowledgeable and consistently successful bass guide on the famed East Texas lunker factory, annually guiding clients to big bucketmouth bass that tip the scales in the 10-pound or better range, all on the more difficult to fish long rod.
What’s more, a dedicated bass angler since he was in his early teens, Woodruff's fishing wisdom works for both long rod enthusiasts and for those who prefer to catch their bass on conventional tackle.
Ok, fine, you say, but what does any angler do when a month of storms stirs things up during late spring?
Woodruff's third key is to search for clean, or cleaner, water by focusing on the deep water side of grass beds, around emerging lily pads, on the deep water side of bluegill beds, in areas where shad are spawning and around cover, especially lone trees, that lie on migrational routes that bass use to move away from their spawning beds.
Often, bass at this time of the year are still caught very near where they’ve spawned, even if there’s new inflow the consistency of pancake batter somewhere nearby.
(Jeff Phillips photo)
“Watch the side coves and pockets on creeks,” said Woodruff. “They may stay clear for quite a while after a big rain.
“Shad and other baitfish will seek out this cleaner water while they can. And if they find these spots, you can rest assured that the bass will too.”
Are there areas to avoid after a big rainstorm?
“Yeah,” says Woodruff, a three-time finalist for the Orvis “Guide of the Year” award, “it’s usually a good idea to avoid areas with heavier current that is flowing in, areas where there is flooded debris floating and spots with foamy water and such,” he said.
A fourth key is to pay attention to, and make adjustments when necessary, is what baits are being used.
“Lure selection, or in my case, fly selection, is the main thing that changes,” said Woodruff. “I like to use highly visible flies with the most visible colors in stained water being fluorescent orange, fluorescent red, chartreuse and black.”
On the conventional side of things, Woodruff says the old fire tiger selection is a great color choice when the water is heavily stained to downright muddy.
The fifth thing the Fork guide wants to do when the water is the color of chocolate milk is to give bass some commotion to home in on.
“Noise and water displacement are important factors for a fly (or lure) to have in muddy water, so I’m often throwing patterns that are topwater based, have rattles embedded in them or have curly tails tied into the fly that will push a little water,” he said.
Conventional tackle – buzzbaits that squeak and squawk across the surface, spinnerbaits with big Colorado blades that throb, hollow-bodied popper frogs that noisily push water and crankbaits that have rattles – accomplish the same thing in giving bass something to hear or in creating water displacement that fish sense with their lateral lines.
In addition to using visible colors and adding noise and a “push of water” to his fly selection, Woodruff also is going to challenge muddy water conditions by adding in a sixth key and that's by tweaking the rhythm that he fishes selected fly patterns with.
“When I’m retrieving a fly, I try to do so with a consistent cadence so the bass can predict where it will be as they move towards it,” said Woodruff.
By doing so, Woodruff says a fish will have ample time to either see his offering in the muddy conditions, hear the bait or sense its location before the fly, or lure, moves out of the fish’s strike zone.
A seventh and final recommendation by Woodruff is for an angler to slow down their retrieve. It’s true in general and most especially when the bites are tough to come by.
“One of the bigger mistakes that people make when fishing in stained conditions is to fish their offering too fast,” said Woodruff, a Texas A&M University entomology graduate.
In other words, slow down. And then when you think you have already slowed down enough, try slowing down even more.
While fly fishing for big bass isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, Woodruff’s fishing wisdom is applicable for both conventional anglers and those who thrill to catching bucketmouths on the long rod.
By adjusting the guide’s advice to whatever style of angling floats a bass fisherman's boat, the result can be the bucketmouth of a lifetime, even in a record-setting wet spring where the water is as clear as mud (and some guy named Noah is waiting in the wings with a really big boat).